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Friday, 19 October 1984
Page: 2082

Senator MISSEN(3.20) —Mr President, I wish to speak briefly, as I have on a number of occasions when you and your predecessors have very sensibly drawn the attention of the Senate to the fact that government responses to reports have not been given to the Senate within the required time. I want to make some general comments on this. Honourable senators will note that the President's report details 17 reports in all to which the Government has not responded within the specified period. I remind the Senate that under the initiative of the Fraser Government an undertaking was given that government responses to parliamentary committee reports would be made within six months. In August last year, in response to a question from me, the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Button) indicated that in future they would be responded to within three months. That seemed to be some advance.

In a number of cases interim responses have been made. Those interim responses say merely that the matter is being looked at. I do not want to generalise entirely. One or two of the interim responses might have had some actual content in them. For example, in relation to the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Education and the Arts, my colleague Senator Teague, who is sitting next to me, assures me that the response was purely interim and did not indicate any response on policy. So far as that and many other responses are concerned, there has been merely a technical compliance with putting down a statement within three months. I am glad that that is done because it indicates at least where the matter is going and there is a possibility of making some comment or criticism of it, but it is not a response in any true sense of the word.

The very health of the committee system-I think that its health is in a dangerous state-is affected by the inability of those who work not only on Senate committee reports but also on other parliamentary reports to find out what is being done, what is the attitude in regard to the major policy questions that these reports throw up. If honourable senators are to continue to have enthusiasm-I see some risk in this Parliament that that enthusiasm will wane, which is not surprising if governments do not respond quickly to reports-a response must be given quickly. I am not making this a party political issue. It has been a long-standing problem that we have not received responses quickly. After the Government has undertaken to halve the period in which a response is given, we find this immense amount of dissatisfaction.

Regarding the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs on Makarrata, which was a massive report and which concerned the possibility of a compact with the Aboriginal people, deadly silence has set in since 13 September last year. That is regrettable. That is the case with a number of reports and there is not even an interim response to them. Mr President, I welcome the fact that you have presented us with the facts. I trust that the Leader of the Government in the Senate, who unfortunately has left the chamber after making that slight intervention earlier, will not only respond on a couple of the reports which were mentioned by Senator Baume but also will give us some indication of how he will ensure that the undertakings of the Government are honoured. The Government might not have much longer to do so, but if by some mischance the Government is re-elected, how will it ensure that it will carry out the undertaking which it gave to this Parliament in August last year?